Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Snarl and Night Drive at Laohu

Over the years, I have seen more small wildlife in Laohu and its surroundings than any other national parks or private game reserves: aardwolves, porcupines (one often eats the tree bark at night outside my bedroom door), bat-eared foxes, meerkats, hares of all kinds, and even the very rare anteaters - once in slow motion zigzagging ahead of my vehicle.
My reserve staff have of course sighted other precious wildlife such as black-footed cats, african wild cats and caracals, which I have not had the pleasure of seeing in the wild and have been meaning to make an effort to see them. During this visit, I asked our Reserve Manager, Hein, to take me on a night drive to see if I would have the good luck of finding a black-footed cat, which fascinates me particularly as my cat Sisi probably has some Black-footed cat blood.
Hein has had a lot of experience in wildlife before he joined us. We set out after dinner at 8.30pm. All game were active now at night that the temperature had become very pleasant and they seemed to be less agitated than during the day. We could get very close to game probably because they don't see well in the dark. We saw elands, mountain reedbuck, kudos, etc, etc and herds of black wildebeests - some of them with twin calves. When we passed the tiger camps, Hein showed me the difference in reaction to lights between cat eyes and other eyes. When light is shone on cat eyes, their irises close. In the distance, we saw three pairs of lights in straight line dimming and brightening again, as our spot light shone on and off them - these were eyes of Hulooo and brothers.
In order to increase the chance of sighting the very shy black-footed cat, Hein has to call them. He does this by imitating the squeaking sound of mouse using his own lips, or blowing distress calls of rabbits on a predator whistle. In the first round of calls, he got the attention of an aardwolf. Hein also blew jackal howls on the whistle to which real jackals would respond by howling back, but not tonight, as its breeding season and they are nurturing the young in their dens.
After the second round of whistle blowing at another spot, about 9 bat-eared foxes came from different directions to investigate. They were curious little animals with big ears. They ran off as soon as they realized there were no distressed rabbits.
Still no black-footed cats on my sighted list, I had to contend visiting "Snarl". She is a 8/9 month old orphaned caracal whose mother was poisoned by local farmers and who was saved by a friend of Hein. We offered to take her so she could leave the small cage behind and live in a big enclosure. Four months ago, when I first saw her, she was hissing and spitting. It is very hard to tame a wild cat after she has opened her eyes around 10 days of age and the first object she sees is her mother. The power of caracal is legendary - its the fastest land animal by body weight and size, and they can take down a springbok several times their body size piecemeal. I had seen a tame one jumping in one leap to the top of a room door.
Now that Snarl has moved into her large enclosure, she hid herself under the little rock cave, snarling at us but looked a lot calmer compared to being in that small cage. What happened next surprised us all. Hein was watering the grass in her enclosure with a water tube, while suddenly Snarl dashed out under the shower to cool herself down! She dashed back to her hideout afterwards, licking herself dry with contentment.
Our plan is to rehabilitate Snarl and release her back into nature at her natural dispersal age about 20 months old. Thankfully, like most small wild cats, their hunter instinct seem to be stronger and it would be much easier task to send her back to the wild successfully than the tigers!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Storms & Sadness Strike Laohu

I am very sad to report that 327 and Cathay's new cub may be gone.

Heavy thunderstorm hit Laohu Valley yesterday afternoon. While feeding Cathay, tiger supervisor Vivienne heard a sudden yelp from the cub, as if it were in pain. Cathay dashed back to the trees and didn't come out at night. This morning Cathay seemed to have stopped suckling and spent most of her time away from her cub, while there was no complaining cries from her cub. Was the cub hit by hail? While I was prepared the worst, I was hoping for the best, that Vivienne was simply over concerned.

We had to wait till this afternoon's feeding time to separate Cathay from her camp so we could go inside to check what become of the cub. We searched every corner - under the trees, inside the bushes etc but could see nothing. It suddenly occurred to me that the cub may have been taken by another animal, such as snake or predatory bird! From the way Vivienne described to me it sounded very much like this.

This is one of the worst fears I hold and in fact I often have nightmares about this, ever since Hope was bitten by a baboon. I was worried sick about this when Madonna had her second litter of cubs in this same camp, besides the usual cold rains and strong wind.

Now the worst has happened to the only cub that 327 has sired, during the most "ideal" hot summer time. Although this is a risk of rewilding, I regret I did not insist on having her giving birth in the quarantine camp where the vulnerable young would be more sheltered from such dangers till they become mobile. Its another valuable lesson learned for us, and the number of South China Tigers is too small for us to take such total risks of loosing them to natural hazards.

The bright side is that we have proven 327 can breed, and that in three weeks Cathay should have post-partum oestrus and will be able to mate again. Thankfully, Vivienne managed to take two photos of the cub on its first day, which become valuable record for the project!

Thursday, 17 December 2009

327 Finally Became Dad!

I was exhausted but not able to fall asleep, watching the clock reaching 2am, 3am in the hotel room in Johannesburg. During dinner with Consul General of Johannesburg and other friends, I talked about Cathay being probably pregnant and if so, might be giving birth any time. Now lying in bed, I somehow had the premonition that Cathay may have already given birth and I was counting the hours so I could call our team at Laohu to find out first thing in the morning.
I only fell asleep around 7am in the morning and the first email I saw coming in when I woke up at 10am, told me that baby tiger cry was heard from the trees in Cathay's camp in the late afternoon the previous day ( Dec 16 , 2009) and Cathay had indeed given birth!
After we had almost all given up on his male power, 327 - this city born and city groomed stud, has now vindicated himself and become a father!
327 came a long way. A few months after he arrived at Laohu, we had him to make acquintainces with the two ladies. But he was terrified of Cathay and somehow indifferent to Madonna. We somewhat lost hope. Then we discovered one of his testicles is much smaller than normal, in fact almost invisible! Although we are told this should not stop him from being able to mate or being fertile, but coupled with the fact he did not seem to have much interests in the females, it cast doubt on his abilities nevertheless.
Eventually I had him moved out of the breeding centre and he settled in the 3 ha "grass camp". Initially he would come to greet whatever humans come his way, like he used to do in the breeding centre, and trotting along the fence. After a while he seemed to become indifferent to humans and only came to greet if he was hungry. I was delighted by his change of attitude-perhaps he had some hope!
After separating Cathay from her sons JenB and Coco in August 2008, I was hoping she would come into oestrus in a few months but she kept us waiting and waiting. By Feb this year when she still had not come into oestrus, I decided to rotate her between TigerWoods and 327 and let her spend some time with 327. In the wild, a male tiger could reign his territory for a while but get pushed out by younger and stronger new male, so the tigresses in a male's territory have access to new stud and thus new genetic materials every few years. This also keeps the tigresses' interests in mating and breeding strong.
It came as a nice surprise that the meeting between 327 and Cathay was friendly, unlike their previous encounters. It was further a pleasant shock when 327 and Cathay mated in June this year. I was on the one hand hopeful and on the other hand uncertain about Cathay getting pregnant from 327, and I was indeed terribly disappointed when she came back into oestrus the tenth week after she had mated with 327 - proving he was not able to impregnate her.
Against the advice of others and heeding the traditional Chinese wisdom of "three opportunities", she was allowed to meet 327 when she came back into oestrus at the end of August and demanded being let in with him, even though she was with TigerWoods at that time. What followed after is history. A heated three-day love fest between the two resulted in 327 becoming a Dad, at the age of seven years.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Didi Please Don't Leave Me

Photos from left to right:
Didi at Dining table, Didi Presiding Dinner, Didi & his son Darwin
Didi & Son Darwin, Didi Playing Toy mouse, Didi

Didi is not a Peking University Philosophy Cat, but he does belong to a Beida graduate. He is a most lovable, adorable, and sweet natured Black-Smoke Persian Cat.

I came back from the trip to the Americas on Oct 11th and were anxiously told that my cat Didi refused to eat his food. I picked him up and my heart dropped-he seemed to have only bones left.

Didi had gone through quite a lot. Over three years ago, he nearly died. He had two stones removed from his bladder, cysts treated in his right and dead kidney, enlarged left kidney disinfected, as well as an damaged ureter changed, etc. etc. After all these surgery procedures, I was informed by the vet that it was still not certain how long he would live-maybe a few months, or a few years-as kidney failure can not be reversed or treated. Granted, Persian cats, being very inbred like almost all the pedigree cats and dogs, do have this disease more often due to its genetic make-up. My adorable Blue Persian cat Dunrdunr died two years ago in Beijing also from kidney failure.

I am afraid to think that my worst fear may have come and I was still holding out best hope that Didi was simply fed up with his special stone-prevention food he had been feeding on for the past 3.5 years. However his mood is no longer that playful and besides drinking and peeing a lot (all signs of kidney failire) all he wanted to do is lying in bed, preferably with a human around. It was only a few days before Didi was due for his regular check at the Royal College Vet Hospital's Special Reno Clinic, so I resorted to trying to feed him the normal cat food my other cats eat.

It has been six months since Didi's last regular check but things have spiralled down very fast since then. The blood test showed his kidneys are not good and we need to have him X-rayed and Ultra sound scanned to see if he may also have stones. While I anxiously wait for these more tests, I frantically searched for info on his conditions. I read that low protein diet is actually very controversial and does not necessarily stop the deterioration of kidney. Seeing Didi is now even refusing newly changed brand of food of different flavours and format, I decided to buy him fresh raw meat. In natural conditions, cats are carnivores and they should have the system to digest raw meat. Our tigers are in such superb conditions from eating fresh game.

I was delighted to see Didi eat the organic chicken breast with gusto and hope came back to me. However this was not to last longer then two meals. The next morning, I excitedly bought fresh organic baby chicken, patridges, and giblets to provide calcium hoping a change of food again may interest him. I carefully cut up a patridge into pieces and held in front of his nose, he turned his head away. I sliced some pieces off the poulet for him, but he turned his nose up. I gave him some giblets-chicken liver, heart and neck, he just walked away. I was so disheartened that Didi wouldn't have none of them. Afraid he may loose more weight, I resorted to force-feeding him. I let my husband hold him while I pried his mouth open to push food down his mouth. Despite his resistance, I won a few rounds.

However, seeing him walking with difficulty afterwards scared me. Fearful he may have trouble digesting, I massaged his arms, tummy and back. His condition seemed to be loosing fast so I ended up calling the 24 hour emergency service at the Royal Animal Hospital asking for advice at midnight. The next morning I managed to get Didi's appointment changed to two days earlier.

I took Didi to the Animal Hospital for X-ray and ultrasound scans to check for potential causes such as stones, and discussed with the Vet various possibilities of prolonging his life, in the event of kidney failure. To my great disappointment, it seems all the methods such as applying ACE inhibitors, kidney transplant, or artifacial blood cleaning are either not applicable, or not available. I got results from the X-ray and ultrasound just before I headed to the airport and it broke my heart: Didi's only working kidney is enlarged even more and has lost function, and no stone is causing it. This means if there is no other cause for the enlarged kidney, such as tumor, his kidney has failed on its own and will not be able to live any longer.

Is Didi leaving this world, leaving me? I can't contain this thought. I can't bear not having him bringing me aluminium papers balls to throw for him to chase. I can't bear not having him sitting straight up at the the dining table just like a little person and politely raising his little paw asking to share our snacks. I can't bear not having him demanding me to let him inside my bed cover and sleeping next to me with his furry little head rested on my arm...

With such hopelessness, I got on another plane..

Video: Didi and son Darwin

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

SCT Founders Attended WCN Events

Photos from left to right:
Li & one of her favourite cars the Miata; Pumpkin Harvest 1; Pumpkin Harvest 2; Pumpkin Harvest 3;
Bray and Quan with Dr. Jim Sanderson and Dr. John Hare; Quan & Dr. Douglas Hamilton; Geoffry's Cat on show at Event;
With Dr. John Hare; American Lynx; Quan with Dr. Jane Goodall and Dr. Rodney Jackson;

Oct 2009
Save China's Tigers Founders Li Quan and Stuart Bray attended the annual October fundraising and awareness events of Wildlife Conservation Network in San Francisco at the invitation of its founder Charlie Knowles. During the events, they met with a number of noted conservationists including Dr. Jane Goodall, Dr. Iain Douglas Hamilton of "Save the Elephant", Dr. John Hare of "Saving the Wild Camel", and Dr. Rodney Jackson of "Snow Leopard Conservancy", etc. and discussed future cat conservation projects with Dr. Jim Sanderson of "Small Cats Alliance" and Dr. Laurie Marker of "Cheetah Conservation Funds". Many conservationists applauded Save China's Tigers effort to save the South China Tiger and restore its habitat in China.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Jaguars! And Piranhas For Dinner Finally

Photos from left to right:
Toucan; Cayman 1; Cayman 2; Cayman resting on branch;
Cayman caught fish; Giant Otter Caught fish
; Me & Jaguar; Wilson the Beautiful;
Pretty Tame Macaws;
Duda & Her sister; Capibara Mum & Baby

I am back in the Pantanal again, this time meeting with Charlie who runs a successful Jaguar Eco-tourist operation and learn from him how he has combined his expertise with eco-tourism to find solutions in sustainable conservation. He is an American PHD in biology who was a senior scientist with WCS before deciding to put academic research into conservation practice by starting his own eco-tourist operation. He has built eighteen eco lodges in different countries in Latin America and the Jaguar Research Center is one of his latest endeavours.

I have heard of him two years ago when I was here. Subsequently, I heard about him again through other friends in South Africa. He has a somewhat controversial reputation, having turned from a scientist into a business man. However, Charlie mentioned that George Schaller, a well-known conservation scientist did encourage Charlie to try unconventional technics to add value to intact nature.

The trip from London this time did not have any hiccups like two years ago: Stuart was not rejected at the border, and we did not arrive in the wrong airport. We were picked up by Charlie at the familiar Cuiaba airport at noon on Sept 26.

Two years ago in August, I spent a fantastic and unique ten days in the Pantanal with Dr. Peter Crawshaw-a jaguar scientist who has worked over 30 years in the field, and saw my first two jaguars two days before I was due to leave (see my blogs from August 2007). This time, having heard about the amazing jaguar sighting record Charlie's operation provides, I was very looking forward to not only finding out how he does it and also seeing the jaguars closer range.

We spent the 4-hour trip from Cuiaba to his lodge discussing and exchanging ideas and information. After breakfast the next morning at 7am, we set off on the river looking for Jaguars while continuing our discussions. Charlie has asked questions about many of the issues in conservation. For example, what is the difference between feeding wild birds from providing salt blocks to antelopes (which is a common practice in wildlife reserves in South Africa), since the former seems to be considered a faux-pas, while the latter is a common practice. Interestingly, we have come to the same conclusions on many issues, though he has approached them from biology perspectives, while I have viewed them with common sense. One of these conclusions is that planet earth has been significantly altered by humans, in fact destroyed, and the destruction is continuing at a faster speed. Many traditional conservation methods have failed. Not only do we need to think outside the box to help the planet, but we also need to ACT.

Our conversation was interrupted by news of a jaguar sighting. We quietly approached the spot and there were two of them about 2 years of age-probably having just left their mother. One of them has been named by the lodge's guests who first sighted her as Duda. They were lying in an opening-"window" of the dense bush and trees, quietly. It was evident these cats were very relaxed with human presence and might be as interested in their human visitors as we were in them, watching us without moving much. Duda is the slightly more active one of the two, moving behind the trees from time to time but not forgetting about showering some affection to her sister from time to time. They were so beautiful! I felt previledged to be so close to them. The sun was shining from the wrong direction so I battled to get a good photo. Still one can still see how dazzlingly beautiful these magnificant cats are from my poorly shot photos.

Charlie, who started coming out to the Pantanal since late 80s had learned
that local fishermen threw their Piranha catch at the jaguars. I wrote in
my blog two years ago that my host threw his piranha catch back into the river since locals find it to have too little meat to bother cooking it. The jaguars gradually learned that these little humans inside their little boats are not any threat to their lives and become quite accustomed to human presence. This is not dissimiliar to some of the leopards in some South African reserves where similar process took place, albert with more human intervention as I was told. The question is, does this practice actually harm them? And is it worthwhile if fund generated from tourists who spend good amount of money seeing the cats in their natural habitat is helping protecting them?

After the lunch break, we set out at 2.30pm for our afternoon ride on the rivers again. Having done these rivers exhaustively two years ago, I could remember the houses I visited and people I met at some of the locations. I was looking forward to seeing more jaguars though I wasn't that greedy to demand another sighting today. But one hour into our trip, we saw another boat quietly parked close to the Corichon Negro (black river), a tributory to the Cuiaba river. We slowed our engine and saw a jaguar under the trees on the river bank. This turned out to be "Wilson", whose reputation I have heard and he is indeed worthy of all the praise heaped on him by his human admirers.

Apparently Wilson was not seen for about a week, prompting speculations about his wherabouts and his fate, before he was seen again yesterday. He must just have gone wondering about looking for a little diversement with girls!

For next two hours, we watched and waited. Wilson's each move excited us with anticipation. But all Wilson did was a slight shift of position, either by moving a couple of meters to the side, or by switching position between his head and tail. He was feeling too comfortable watching all these humans coming and going to leave his vantage point!

Our luck stopped then and there however, as dark clouds moved in on Sept 28. The temperature dropped and as I learned two years ago, jaguars have no more need to come to the riverside to cool themselves down, therefore reducing the chances of humans seeing them by a large margin. For the next two days we scouted the rivers in cold wind, knowing the chance of jaguar sighting was small but still holding a sliver of hope some miracle may happen.

I was however finally able to get Piranha for dinner (see my blog from Aug 2007 on missed Piranha dinner)!

The experience is however not for the faint hearted. The cost is 800 US dollars per person (1600 USD per couple) per night but there is no running water in the tent, no flush toilet, and only about five minutes worth of water for shower coming out of a plastic bottle each night, not mentioning sitting inside a small boat for hours each day scouting the rivers for a potential jaguar sighting that's not guaranteed. Despite what one hears about the high frequency of jaguar sightings in this area, one thing humans can not control is the weather, which influences jaguar sightings greatly. And it will add another 600 to 1000 USD to the bill if you have Charlie as a guide.

The star attraction is Cida the cook, who, God knows how, manages to produce marvelous meals on the houseboat, where we gather for our three meals a day, and where one could also take a long shower in the public bathroom, shared by both guests (including camping guests) and staff alike. When I asked Cida when she sleeps, she just smiled.

Video from left to right:
Jaguar Yawn; Macaws talking to us;
Giant Otter caught a fish

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Battle Field at Tigers Roars

Aug 5th. 2009 Hunting Intensified
I feel so privileged to witness what I saw today. Hulooo and brothers were let into Tigers Roars in the evening of Aug 2nd and they made a kill overnight. Last night they took down two more blesbok, reducing their numbers to 26. When I went to see them around 4.30pm today, I was surprised to see one tiger was stalking an antelope in the distance, probably emboldened by their success from last few days. I quickly drove up to the lookout point from where I saw one of the younger brothers on the prowl.
Just when I was wondering if this would be Coco, Hulooo appeared in my binoculars, also with a meaningful walk.

The two brothers kept some distance about twenty meter between them, sniffing all the way, tracking the blesbok, heading South West. In the North-Eastern part of the camp, I saw the big group of blesbok standing, keenly aware of the tigers presence and monitoring their every move.
Hulooo's brother was closer to the antelopes and used the little bushes to hide himself during the approach.

Both tigers got closer and the blesbok lost their nerves and ran off towards the Western part of the camp, tailed by the two tiger brothers. Just when I thought what a pity that the other brother must be feeding on the kills, the third tiger ran out from behind the trees in the Western part towards the Blesbok, who were shocked to see an enemy coming out of nowhere. I had but to admit that that was an incredible cooperation among the brothers!

Way cut off by the third tiger, the blesbok split in different groups, with the third tiger chasing them to the West and the other two following them eastwards. There were a couple of close encounters and my heart was beating fast, anticipating a kill. But to my disappointment, no capture was made.

The brothers regrouped playfully and then split off again with a mission.
They sniffed along the grass pushing towards East again. The full moon was rising in the East, and slowly the sky turned a blue-reddish hue. Hulooo and bros continued their pursuit with such energy and stamina and there was another near encounter soon. For the next half an hour, I could see the blesbok had lost their cool, constantly running back and forth, with the brothers on their sides with seemingly endless energy. The hunt continued as the sun disappeared completely and judging from the constant moving shadows of the blesbok, I can guess the tigers were still hard at work. I bet they would make another kill tonight!

Aug 6, 2009 Battle between JenB Bros and a Blesbok
Having not seen any kills, never mind a dramatic hunt for years since Feb 2006, I was totally taken by surprise today. My friend Nicky F and her family of five came in helicopter today from Johannesburg, bringing my husband Stuart with them.

After a leisurely drive around our reserve and a lamb burger lunch, specialty of Villa TigerLi, my guests wanted to go and see the tigers early so we arrived at the Tiger Rewilding Center around 4pm in two vehicles.
Madonna put in an appearance for a few moments in the Catkins camp before disappearing into the river, tailed by King Henry who kept on playing with her tail.

We went into Tigers Roars Camp and just when I was wondering which direction to go to find Hulooo and brothers, we saw blesbok running wildly in the hilly area in the western section of the camp, and shadows of running tigers from time to time. We quickly drove towards the west, seeing now blesbok scattered all over this part of the camp, running off. We saw two tigers not far ahead going behind the trees. We followed them down the river area and saw in the distance against the sun the silhouette a blesbok and a tiger!

My goodness!!! The blesbok was charging the tiger! My heartbeat raced as I anticipated the third ever fantastic witnessed battle between tiger and blesbok during the history of our rewilding! What followed after was beyond words can describe, as I pulled out my little video camera quickly and recorded the fantastic tackle of the blesbok by JenB. JenB tried, almost half-heartedly, to bite the blesbok by the neck but the blesbok kept avoiding it. However, standing in the pool of water, the blesbok kept slipping giving the tiger advantage to tackle him. After a few rounds, with my females guests wooing and aahing, and me screaming and shrieking, JenB almost confused what to do seeing the slipping blesbok, finally grabbed the blesbok by its neck tentatively, and dragged it behind the tall grass! The moaning of the blesbok died eventually, followed by a few minutes of dead silence.

I could not contain my excitement at having witnessed this most fantastic hunt-only the third one I have ever witnessed during the entire nearly 6 years of rewilding. I am so proud of JenB, whom we thought had been the lame duck.

Another surprise laid in store, as we discovered another kill lying on the hilly rocks of the river bank a bit later, as Coco and JenB tried in turn to drag it down to a more accommodating area. Only after much effort, Coco managed, in a clever move, to dislodge the blesbok whose legs were caught in the rocks. Afterwards, all three young tigers came to where our vehicles were and lied down watching us as if seeking praise and approval. I was impressed that Hulooo did not come and jump on our vehicles as if having erased past memories from his childhood. Or maybe he is just getting less attached to humans as the wild side took over.
After much compliment and encouragement we showered on them, we left them before it turned completely dark. We got out of Tigers Roars just before they arrived at the gate, as if not wanting us to leave.

I must say the progress of these young tigers were remarkable. I counted 24 blesbok left this morning, so two kills were made overnight, and now we counted 21 blesbok remaining which means they made three kills during today, bring the total number of kills to 8 in the last 4 days since Sunday.

Aug 8, 2009
Heaven forbids! Hulooo brothers took another blesbok overnight, AND a springbok!! Springbok are famously fast runners and can spring 7 to 8 meters in one jump. They can also run through the fence when faced with danger. Two Springbok came into Tigers Roars a few months ago and have managed to survive through the onslaught for a few months. But clearly, one has now lost its life last night. This brings a total number of hunts to 10 kills in past five days. I can't but congratulate the brothers for their achievement.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Save China's Tigers to Fund Wild Cat Conservation Worldwide

Save China's Tigers, a charitable foundation funding pioneering work with the South China Tiger, has broadened its scope of conservation goals from tigers to include all wild cats around the world. Today it launched the "Wildcat Fund” to encourage and support wild cat research, conservation, as well as reintroduction efforts for highly endangered and vulnerable wild cats.

There are currently thirty-seven species of wild cats, with many facing uncertain futures. The best known are the big cats including tigers, lions, and jaguars. Of these, the South China Tiger is the most endangered and is on the verge of extinction. However, three-quarters of the world's wild cats are smaller species and many of these are also highly endangered such as the Iriomote Cat, the Andean Mountain cat, Borneo Bay cat, and the Flat-headed cat.

Historically, funding in wild cat conservation has favoured the large, charismatic species such as lions, cheetahs and tigers. While giving priorities to cat species having the IUCN “Endangered” status or above, Save China’s Tigers’ “Wildcat Fund” also encourages projects conducting pioneering biological and ecological research of little known cat species in an effort to increase understanding of these species and help design improved conservation actions.

Ms. Li Quan, Founding Director of Save China's Tigers said: "My passion has always been for all cats of the world. I am very pleased to be able to contribute to the conservation of all of them through Save China's Tigers’ Wildcat Fund. Over the years, we have realized that for some endangered species to survive in the wild, a multi-disciplinary approach combining captive breeding, rewilding, habitat protection and restoration, and re-introduction can make a valuable contribution to wildlife conservation and the environment. Save China’s Tigers was the first to experiment with this alternative in big cat conservation and we have made a number of significant breakthroughs in tiger conservation. We would like to apply our expertise and share our experience to help save other endangered cats of the world", says Quan.

Projects applying for funding must be proactive conservation projects led by wild cat biologists and ecologists with proven academic record, but more importantly over eight years of field experience. Proposals should not include office and administrative expenditures. "We would like to focus on field activities to counter the trend in conservation where valuable donor funding pays for office infrastructure and expensive conferences. And, we would like to make the projects we fund accountable for our benefactors", Quan added.

One of the first projects that Save China's Tigers will be funding is Brazilian Jaguar expert Dr. Peter Crawshaw's research vehicle to support his various wild cat conservation projects including jaguars, cougars etc. Another is the rewilding and reintroduction of a female Oncilla (aka "Tiger Cat" and "Leopardus tigrinus") in Brazil to learn if it is feasible to think of reintroducing individuals into the wild from captive conditions, as well as to study the behaviour of wild individuals of this little known cat.

Funding applications can be made at any time by completing an application form which can be downloaded from our website. The grant committee will be chaired by Save China's Tigers founder Li Quan with a panel of experienced cat scientists. Any inquiries must be sent to:

Save China's Tigers would like to use this opportunity to thank all its supporters for their tremendous contribution to our historic Chinese Tiger conservation effort.

Conservation Finance International
Photo by: Yuan Ye

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

The Microchipping Drama -Never Underestimate the Power of an Angry Tiger

Amid much progress and excitement with our new initiatives, I arrived back at Laohu Valley last night. Hulooo and brothers greeted me in Tiger's Roar Camp. Hulooo, though still welcoming, seemed not as attached to humans as before, which is a good sign. He is either reaching adolescent rebellious age, just like a human teen, or life in the wild is finally turning him into a real tiger.

They were put into Tigers Roars only last night, so I was surprised to see all three of them with faint blood stains on their ruff, and a bit on their legs. They were still licking them off. A kill or two must have been made overnight! We were able to find out later they made one kill, since 28 blesbok remained out of the 29 we had yesterday , but we will not know who was the hero of the pack although we all speculated that Coco would be the one. Never underestimate the others, I said to myself, as Madonna turned out to be hunting "secretly" while we all marvelled at TigerWoods' remarkable abilities when they were young!

King Henry and Princess were separated from mom this morning and were kept in Riverine Camp, in anticipation of their microchipping this afternoon by the Vet Dr. Joseph Van Heerden. This would be a second attempt as the first attempt to microchip them failed when they were two months old. Madonna and cubs had done remarkly well in the past month and made 10 kills in one month while in Tigers Roars and supported themselves completely on their own. We had to buy new game to replensh the stock last week. At this rate, the young tigers will all become proficient hunters in no time!

Joseph arrived before 2pm and checked on King Henry and Princess to estimate their weight. It is important to have as accurate an estimate as possible to apply the right amount of medicine. Joseph is a very cautious vet, and I wrote before how impressed I was with him as he was very cautious in terms of drugs and dosage. The first one to get the dart was King Henry. He dropped down after 10 minutes but as soon as the Vet poked him with a stick to see if he had fallen asleep, he jumped up and ran off. He struggled to stay up walking away but sleep overcame him again. The Vet decided to give him another dose of sedatives. This time he fell asleep just enough for the vet to microchip him but did not give us enough time to apply antidote before he suddenly woke up and stumbled off again. Joseph eventually managed to catch up with him and apply half a dose of antidote to KH but gave up after a bit of chase and decided to let him wake up on his own, which could take quite a while. Fortunately, KH fell into slumber again later and gave the vet opportunty to apply the leftover antidote.

The Vet then prepared sedatives for Princess who, having seen her brother fall, became totally wild. She ran around the fenceline while the vet was about to shoot the dart. But her next move was beyond anyone's imagination! Just when we were turning the vehicle around, we suddenly saw this flash of orange fur flying through the gate separating Catkins Camp and Princes ran off into the trees on the other side of the fence!! How on earth she did that we did not know. We drove to the gate and saw the wires of the gate were split wide open. Microchipping seemed to be always full of drama. We had JenB climbing up the electric fence during their microchipping last year; not mentioning King Henry and Princess couldn't be caught the first time when we tried microchipping; and now we have Princess going through fence! One can never overestimate the difficulties enough in these kinds of vetinary undertakings!

Having now given up the microchipping of Princess, we moved to Cathay, planning to take up the long-dead radio-collar off her. After all that difficulties with the young cubs, we were very anxiuous. However, Cathay was indeed a worldly tiger, and came to the fence to greet us. The whole darting, de-collaring and antidote applying process went smoothly, much to our relief, to compensate for the troubles we had with King Henry and Princess.

We did not complete our tasks fully today, but we learned a big lesson, that no fence is a guarantee of protection when faced with an angry tiger! We now have to leave Princess's microchipping for some time in the future, once more!

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Karma and the NSPCA

Only recently, I wrote a blog titled “What goes around” concerning the scandal of Ruth Padel having to resign from the Chair of Oxford Poetry due to her underhanded tactics against the Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott, and her defamation of myself in her book Tigers In Red Weather.

Just now, a friend in South Africa sent me an article that appeared in “the Star” on July 11th titled “‘Bullying’ NSPCA chief in dog box”. It started as follows:

“The CHIEF executive officer of the National Society for the Prevention of the Cruelty to Animals is under fire for allegedly mismanaging the organisation, misusing the perennial cash-strapped body’s funds and bullying her staff.. SPCA staff approached the Office of the Public Protector to complain that Alberton-based NSPCA chief executive Marcelle Meredith had received inordinate salary increases, that she would regularly receive “inappropriate” luxury vehicles as company cars and that she would ruthlessly deal with employees who question her.”

And the Public Protector concluded in a report to the then agriculture minister Lulu Xingwana: “Upon careful consideration of the facts before us, the Office of the Public Protector is of the view that there may exist serious organisational and human relationship problems within the NSPCA, and that many appear to have their origin in an unaccountable management style.”

Is this Karma, or what? In the Wikipedia definition, Karma is described as follows:
“Karma” is the concept of "action" or "deed" in Indian religions understood as that which causes the entire cycle of cause and effect originating in ancient India and treated in Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Buddhist philosophies. In these systems, the effects of all deeds are viewed as actively shaping past, present, and future experiences. The results or 'fruits' of actions are called karma-phala.”
This news story is well in line with the grapevine reputations of Meredith who has reigned at the NSPCA for 17 years. I have never met her, but her reputation is well known to me through many sources. One is through ex-NSPCA staff members. And another is of course through the famous five-year fight that NSPCA launched against us. It started with the NSPCA’s threat of criminal prosecution of my team for providing cockerals for our nearly extinct tigers to learn hunting. When they failed to convince the police to prosecute us on this account and the subsequent “live blesbok” supply to tigers, they embarked on a long civil suit against us which cost us millions of rands in order to defend our project and our staff.
We won the case, and won also the appeal, as well as NSPCA’s appeal to the supreme court and the NSPCA was order to pay our legal costs. Our success in court was widely reported in the South African press which prompted readers writing to us showing support and declaring withdrawal of their support for the NSPCA. However, the NSPCA has continued to pursue, which I have no doubt to be Meredith’s determined personal vengeance against us. I often wondered what good could be achieved if the NSPCA actually went after the real animal cruelty issues such as canned lion hunting operators, instead of wasting money prosecuting legitimate conservation programs like ours? As we said before, we are saddened that NSPCA’s compassion for animals does not extend to those that are critically endangered like the Chinese tiger. However, after all, it is donor money Meredith was using to pay her legal advisors to crucify our project, whose founders (Stuart and myself) are not only not paid for their services to the charity, but contributed their own life savings of millions of dollars to it.
The NSPCA was created back in a 1962 Act that gave it police-state-like powers. Even now the public prosecutor has no jurisdiction and its activities seem unaccountable to anyone, let alone taxpayers. Asked about her salary, Meredith pointed out that the NSPCA does not fall under the Companies Act.
Now reading this expose of Meredith on my computer screen, I must say, this has got to be Karma!

Tuesday, 26 May 2009


-Ruth Padel vs. Derek Walcott and Me

A few years ago, a nice young British college graduate who was volunteering at our Laohu Valley Reserve, asked me if I knew someone named Ruth Padel. That name rang a bell, but I simply could not place her. Then the young chap told me that this Padel person had written about me in her book, and showed me the book he was reading... Oh Yes, of course! The memories came back. My Goodness, she has written the book! I had totally forgotten about her and the book she was planning to write.

I told the nice young chap enthusiastically that I had not only met her, but had invited her home and cooked her a Chinese dinner, and that my husband and I talked to her extensively about our project, after she had contacted me out of the blue. I wanted to help her since she was writing a book about tigers, and I was delighted to be of service to her, also out of respect for Darwin, who appeared to be Padel’s great-great-grandfather, having been born a staunch Darwinian myself in China. I happily offered to help her making contacts in China, should she need, for her book research.

After that dinner at our apartment, I no longer heard from Padel, except one occasional message to ask my help in making contact for her in China. I wondered for some time what had become of her book but firmly believed she was no longer writing it, since I was convinced she would have let me know about it. And I certainly would buy a copy in support of her and the tigers.

Now, seeing Padel’s book in the hands of this volunteer, I was quite excited and asked him if I could have a quick read of the section about me. The young chap appeared reluctant but hesitantly said “yes”, adding somewhat embarrassingly that the book was not very positive about me. My heart dropped. What could I have possibly said or done to be written about negatively by Ms. Padel? All I had given her was kindness and generosity in support of her work, for the sake of tigers. I told the young volunteer that I really would not mind criticism, particularly constructive ones. And I am also used to malicious personal attacks on me, by the likes of Judy Mills of Conservation International, for example, in a Wall Street Journal article a few years ago. I am strong enough to handle whatever nonsense possibly written about me in Padel’s book.

The young chap reluctantly handed the book “Tigers in Red Weather” to me, adding that he had been in our project for the past few weeks and he loved it, and that he strongly believed what we were doing is not only fantastic, but the right thing to do for the South China Tigers. I was grateful for him, since what I subsequently read in Padel’s book made me seethe with anger.

Padel has not only misrepresented facts about our project, but attacked me with such sarcasm as if she held grudges against me personally. For example, she said in her book: “Li Quan’s ideas were inspired by captive predators trained to hunt to camera”. This could not be further from truth and at minimum was twisting of my words by Padel. She knew what I was trying to do was inspired by what China was already doing at Meihuashan Chinese Tiger Rehabilitation project. In fact, she asked my assistance to make arrangements to visit Meihuashan after I had told her about it. All I attempted was trying to do the same in a more professional manner in a country with more conservation expertise and more wildlife resources to give the South China Tigers a head start in their rewilding training.

Another example, she wrote: “Save China’s Tigers scheme seems glamorous. There is money and publicity in it”. I wonder where Ms. Padel had seen money and publicity? My husband and I spent millions of our personal savings on the project, without a single cent of return, all because we believe that saving the cultural symbol of China - the King of Beasts, is not only good for restoring the eco-systems, but also conducive to saving the traditional cultural values of China. To date, unlike many big NGOs, we have not spent a cent on hiring PR, either in-house or external, and we gained good publicity through our actions and dedication to our goal. Yet Padel saw money and publicity in her eyes.

She wrote that I “seemed to have ignored the world’s top scientific advice. She may release a few tigers in a closed reserve but this will have nothing to do with conservation and will never lead to a viable wild population. It seemed a terrible waste of enormous tiger funds”. Wait a minute, didn’t I tell you, Ms. Padel, we can not save the Chinese tiger as a whole, if we don’t save the first few to start with? Didn’t we tell you, the tiger funds came from our savings, not from other donor agencies since the big NGOs had already pronounced the South China Tiger dead or not worth saving? Didn’t I tell you the reason we are attempting this innovative conservation project is because the big NGO’s are doing nothing to save the South Chinese tiger except criticise the efforts of those who are? Didn’t I tell you we did not want to give our money to these big NGOs as we see little action from them in saving the tigers and see huge expenses on marketing, administration and PR?

She wrote that “Li Quan also wants to change the name of the South China Tiger to Zhonggauo Hu. Zhonggauo means ‘Middle Kingdom’, the formal name for China: that name would make it simply ‘Chinese Tiger’. Excluding China’s other tigers, the real wild tigers of China today.” And that “I had seen with Wang and Cao how effective that plan would be. (The Chinese tiger - of course!) Her English press releases have subtly switched from ‘South Chinese Tigers’ to ‘Chinese Tigers (also named the South China Tiger)’. I don’t want to be nit picking, but Zhonggauo should be spelled Zhongguo. Secondly, I don’t blame Ms. Padel for failing to know that Zhongguo is also Zhongguo in informal term, since it is Chinese for China. Third, but not last, despite her extensive research, it is sad to see that Ms. Padel still has not learned that the term of the “Chinese Tiger” is not my invention, but has been used by the conservation community to distinguish it from other tigers, such as the Indian (Bengal) Tiger.

She also called our goal to release rewilded tigers back to China’s natural environment during the time of the 2008 Olympic Games and my effort to get the tiger adopted as its Mascot “a sick joke”. Never mind how much this sounded like what Ms. Judy Mills said in the Wall Street Journal Article, branding our effort “a circus side show”. It also goes to show how little she really cared about conservation, since in my opinion, anyone who wants to do something for conservation (never mind those who are spending huge amount of their own savings to do so) and any effort by any person to help the planet should be encouraged, particularly when there are only a small percentage of people who are taking actions to protect nature, and when the species are disappearing at a far greater rate than at any other time in history.

I bought Ruth Padel’s book upon returning to London. I looked at it from time to time. I wanted to keep on reminding myself that our project had not been easy and will continue to face challenges, particularly political ones like this. I will have to grind my teeth, bear the humiliation and continue fighting for the tigers and prove the nay-sayers wrong, as I cant afford to engage in a costly legal battle to get Padel’s publisher to withdraw her book from the shelf despite her misrepresentations of our project.

All these old memories resurfaced today, when I saw the news on BBC “Oxford poet 'sorry' over vote row”. Guess things do come back around?!

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Why Why Why?!

It puzzles me more and more that Cathay has still not come into estrus. Over eight months have passed since she was separated from her sons JenB and Coco. We have been informed by various sources on the estimated time it would take for a tigress to come into estrus after separation from her cubs. Shanghai Zoo, with one of two largest breeding population of South China Tigers in China, said it normally takes two to three months after cubs are taken away from her, usually when the cubs are three months old. Other source says records taken from captive cats show a range of 75 to 592 days. Still another says it takes seven months.. It is very difficult to observe such events in the wild, so our project could be an ideal platform for finding out the situation with a wild tigress.

Anyway, we have done all we could. We moved her far away from her cubs so she could not see them for quite a while. We let her hunt for a few months to "forget" about her cubs. Having exhausted all available strategies, we decided to separate her from TigerWoods for a while, and putting her next to 327. I recall how excited she was when she first met 327 two years ago, chasing him around in the most enticing posture, and it might just take 327 again to excite her system. Some tigers seem to need just the presence of one potential mate. But other tigers are more like cheetahs, who would only come into estrus when there are more than one male present.

Cathay is such an intelligent cat. She seemed to know what we had in store for her and it was easy to get her leaving TW behind, and crossing three gates into the camp adjacent to 327 on April 29. New smells abound, as Madonna and her cubs spent quite a while here. Cathay was absorbed by the smells, busily sniffing and spraying.

May 4th, we let Cathay into 327's camp. We did this with much trepidation, as I still recall how 327 was terrified of Cathay and how they might end up fighting if he defends himself. To my complete surprise, 327 was extremely friendly to Cathay! All this year and half of life in the wild and in solitude may have served him well that he certainly became more of an gentleman. The two played a few games of hide and seek. Seeing nothing harmful happened to them, we decided to let them overnight together. Next morning, we came to see if anything dramatic had happened and were pleased all remained calm.

TigerWoods, however, are not very happy to be left alone. For several days, we heard him roaring, either calling for his mate Cathay, or complaining to us about being left alone. He refused to eat any food. Isn't this an expression of love by TW for Cathay? I don't want to be accused of endowing human emotions and values on animals but our evolutionary paths were the same throughout most part of our development. We must share similar emotions with other mammals. In the end, after a few days of hunger strike by TW, we did not have much choice but to decide to switch Cathay back and forth between TW and 327.

Meanwhile, King Henry and Princess are getting more comfortable in the 42 Ha camp, exploring further afield from the riverside area. For two days, after they made two kills, they even refused to come out. I was beginning to worry that the antelopes might have done damage to them. I was also worried that I might not see them for a while before I would leave Laohu Valley on May 10th. In fact, I made a bet of 50 US dollars with my friend  who came to visit during the weekend of May 8th, that they would not come out during our last afternoon drive. The sun was setting and I was about to drive out of the hunting camp and win my bet, when Vivienne spotted the silent appearance of King Henry! His demeanour had changed. Instead of making grandious announcement for his appearance, he quietly approached, as if stalking us. This made me more convinced that he made at least one kill this time, and was continuing to practice his successful hunting techniques now. I was relieved to see him, and to see he was intact.

Then, as if to grant my wish, Princess also peeped her little shy head from behind the tree branches, just when I started my truck's engine again. I was pleased that I had lost my 50 dollars completely by now, to say the least!!

I left Laohu Valley happy, but looking forward to my next visit again in a few months. So I still find no answer to Cathay's estrus mystery, except to say that she may be needing a rest after carrying two litters of cubs so close to one another. Madonna mated last year around this time. So if tigers do mate seasonally, as some say, Cathay should be mating now. May be soon? May be never? Maybe she will just keep me wondering why!!!

-TigerLi from SA, May 11 2009

Monday, 11 May 2009

Old Young Man & His Rhinos (Trilogy 2)

I visited the second Old Young Man I am going to talk about at his farm in Howick (SA) recently. He is also my idol, that is, if ever I do have celebrity worship. Dr. Ian Player is a controversial figure, who was instrumental in saving the white rhino from extinction in South Africa by selling them to open parks around the world in 1970s. By establishing gene pools outside of the country this ensured that even if the rhinos suffered due to political instabilities of the country at that time, the animal could be reintroduced when the country becomes stable again. Almost all the white rhinos in the world are descendents of the rhinos that he brought out of KwaZulu Natal's game reserves. Ian also led the long political battle to get some additional land added to the Umfolozi Game Reserve in order to save the rhino.

Two years ago we celebrated his 80's birthday in London. Two years on, he is still fighting tirelessly for conservation of the wild, despite that his left eye has lost sight, and his left leg has given in. A search of his name on google yields many results so I won't go into details about all the remarkable work he has done throughout his life, such as his pivotal role in making St. Lucia wetlands the first wilderness areas to be zoned on the African continent; establishing the Wilderness Leadership School and Wilderness Foundation, etc.

What I would like to say about him, is that he is a man of many talents and iron wills. For example, he was credited for having pioneered the great Dusi Canoe Marathon in December 1951. Although eight men participated, only Ian finished the 140kilometer journey between Pietermaritzburg and Durban in a time of six days, despite having being bitten by a night adder during the race. The canoe that he used to complete the race, in this fierce water where Umgeni River meets the Umsundusi River, was made from wood and canvas and weighted roughly 70 pounds. It also held all the supplies he needed to complete the race.

He is a wonderful writer with six books to his credit, such as "Zululand Wilderness: Shadow and Soul". I have learned a great deal about conservation in South Africa, and about his great Zulu friend - Magqubu Ntombela.

He is an eloquent speaker, full of humor and wisdom. He is a generous soul, lending a hand to newcomers to conservation such as myself.

I feel inspired by him, particularly when I face challenges and difficulties. I know how he would encourage me and what he would say to me: "Tiger, go for it! You are a fearless tiger!"

During recent visit, he said to me and my friend & advisor Dr. Hector Magome: "Do you know when you feel old? When people give their seat to you. Traditionally it is men who give seats to women and children. I now know I am old".

But Ian, I would like to say to you, "You are an old Young Man, and a great one! You continue to inspire people around the world to become conservationists. And we will see you around for a long time to come!"

-Li Quan at Laohu Valley Reserve
Photos Credits: (top left) Dr. Ian Player (top right) Wilderness Foundation UK

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Old Young Man & His Lazarus (Trilogy 1)

I am not sure if this is a Chinese thing, or Chinese thing from by-gone era. But I have always had a thing for old people: I enjoy their company, their wisdom, and their conversation. I have had the good fortune to get to know some remarkable old men over 70 years of age, and I am kinda in love with several of them now.

You must wonder what kinda old men attract someone as "young" as myelf. So here, I am going to start with the first one. The only reason I am starting my eulogy with Richard, is because I have just visited him in Philipolis this afternoon, where he offered me my usual Belverdere Vodka.

Richard is an English Gentleman from the old school. Here I would like to quote an article in the Times:

"Richard Proctor-Sims runs a bookshop and an art gallery in Philippolis. More than a half-century ago, Richard was a roving features writer for Panorama, the only travel magazine around at the time. In 1972, driving down from Joburg to Cape Town in his little Fiat at no more than 70km/h, he left the N1 somewhere near Beaufort West and found himself on a network of farm roads. He stopped the car and climbed out. “I smelled the clean air and listened, hearing silence for the first time in my life. And then I decided: the Karoo is where I’ll spend my last days... ”

Richard, to summarize his long and interesting life in a few quick lines, is a jack of all trades: once a diplomat, publisher, journalist, and now a restauranteur, bookshop owner, gallery owner, bar owner, and soon to be a shop keeper. Richard's love of books is inspiring and he is full of sense of humor.. I love spending time with him to acquire a few gems of wisdom for free each time, often accompanied by a signature house vodka cocktail.

Today, after arriving back at Laohu Valley, I paid an afternoon visit to Richard in town, delivering a few Chinese leafy vegetables that he showed interest last time he visited me at Laohu Valley. To my surprise, I saw his black and white cat, wandering past me with great ease and with a nice clean coat of fur. I was really pleasantly surprised and wondered if this was the same cat that I saw last time, with a matted fur and scared looks. Ricard had to tell me a story of this cat, now named Lazarus, before I could believe his transformation.

Lazarus, one of two cats inherited from Richard's sister who past away last year, was very shy and avoided any contacts with humans, including Richard, for quite a long time. A couple of months ago, Lazarus was diagnosed with an incurable immunal deficiency, which caused the loss of his coat. The vet recommended euthanising him, and his brother, who although not ill would suffer for the loss of his life-long companion (we know cats do!) if Lazarus is dead.

Lazarus' brother was easily given an lethal injection. Lazarus, being so timid and difficult to catch, was eventually given poison in his food. He was then dead. Richard had him and his brother buried in the ground, with great sadness, being a softy for cats of all kinds.

Next morning, a black and white cat appearred outside Richard's restaurant "Oom Japie se huis" (Uncle Japie's House). Richard could not believe his eyes when he saw this Lazarus look-alike, since it was Lazarus proper!

Since then, all sypmtoms of mange disappearred from the cat, and his personality has also changed - no longer terrified of those scary human beings. Hence, "Lazarus" got his new name, after the man whom Jesus raised from the dead - "Lazarus".

Richard, as if inspired by this miracle, worked wonders on his garage, soon to be turned into a shop selling organic local produce.

I confess that I feel, men like Richard, are old in age, alright, but they are young in mind and spirit.

-April 28, 2009 Li Quan from Laohu Valley Reserve

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Cathay- the Mother & Hunter

Back at Laohu Valley, everything is so green - a green that I have never seen before here. The rain came at the right time this year and the grass has grown unususally tall. With the blue sky and light white cloud, that lyrics keep coming back to me: "the Sky is high high, the wilderness is vast vast. Where the wind blows the grass lower itself to reveal the wild antelopes".

I am quite certain that our South China Tiger Cathay is pregnant again. Before we start training her to use the breeding center for her birth again, I would like her to have some time roaming free and hunt if she can. She has not been in the big 42 hectare hunting camp for over a year, and I was worried she might loose her hunting skills.

With all the new smells and long grass in the big camp, Cathay enjoyed it-she smelled, flehmened, rolled. However, she subsequently just blindly trailed one of our vehecles, following TigerWoods. There were 20 blesbok (12 adults and 8 calves) inside this big camp but she did not see them. After walking half a kilometer, just when I started to get worried, Cathay raised her head, and saw the antelopes in the distance.

For the next hour or or before the sun set, she started following and stalking the game. It was very hot and she panted heavily, walking and trotting from one side of the camp to the other, while TigerWoods still lazily followed one of our vehicles. I was not sure if Cathay would catch any game due to lack of exercise. However, there she was, crouched low in the long grass tailing three blesbok, two adults and one young.

She moved slowly closer to the antelop, and I prayed for her. She dashed out, but a bit too early this time. The Antelop ran away. She dissappeared into the distance, her golden stripes blending completely in with the golden and green grass.

Just when I was wondering where she was, she was spotted in the far side of the camp. It is very interesting to note that when two tigers are hunting, the tigers even cross each others paths but they never stay together. I always see them at different side of the camp. I don't know if this is intentionally so or just accidental.

By this time, TigerWoods had waken up and also joined the hunt. He was seen also in the far distance but at a different corner. The tigers changed positions at one point and started pushing the game towards west. The sun was setting, and I decided to leave the tigers inside the big camp. I was certain they would make a kill to feed themselves overnight, given the way Cathay hunted.

Next morning, Feb 2nd, one adult antelope was reported missing. The tigers were nowhere to be seen-they must have been on their kill. In the afternoon, I first spotted TigerWoods in the riverine area. After a while, Cathay emerged, and rubbed heads with TigerWoods, but without a single tiny hint of the human existence nearby. TigerWoods left to go near the river to feed, while Cathay lied down lazily in the long grass, bearly visible, even thoguh she was only about 5 meters away from me.

We soon confirmed, a second and young blesbok was also caught, probably that morning, lying dead near where the tigers were.

Thumbs up for Cathay -the mother and the hunter!

Monday, 2 March 2009

The Truth About Cats- Revelations from Taming Sisi

Some people say, cats come to anyone with food. The implied meaning is that cats use humans for their survival and are not really our friends as much as dogs are. Millions of humans who enjoy the pleasurable company of these intelligent beings of cats would beg to differ. Being the proud parent of quite a few cats, big and small, wild and domestic, particularly having "tamed" the little wild cat-"Sissy" on our reserve in the past few years, I have come to a new understanding of cats.

I wrote in my blog before how I have tamed several semi-wild cats which I inherited after acquiring our land in South Africa. "Maow" was already tame. His mother Mommy cost me a bit of effort but did not take that long before she slept affectionately on my face. It was the ultra shy little Sissy who took me a couple of years and much drama to befriend.

The transformation, however, is remarkable. It goes to show that shy cats will become extremely bonded with humans when they come to trust you. Waking up in the middle of sleepless nights to find her little body curled against mine, hear her tiny miaows of greeting and feel her furry little cheek against my face, are among the greatest wonders I behold. Her acknowledging miaws for her punctual return in the evening upon my call is always consolation to me. Her little playful games brighten up my gloomiest moments.

How on earth could this wild cat, with at least three-quarters of genes from black-footed cat, become so trustful of a human so many times of her size, who could easily inflict serious damage on her?

Not food! Though food contributed to the initial bonding process. She had always been fed by others, but she allows no one else to pick her up - stubbornly refusing any other human's offer of friendship. This is very similar to our South China Tiger Madonna, who, despite that I never fed her, still accepts me as her only human mate.

A zoologist once said to me about tigers, that you can't buy friendship from them with food, as they regard food as their rights. They would take food from anyone in case of survival, but you will not necessarily be allowed into their lives.

Perhaps, Sissy feels the love I give and appreciate the care I provided for her? Perhaps, she could sense that I worry about her safety when I am away? Perhaps, but perhaps, it is just because she needs a mother which I have become, after her own mother rejected her, after her younger siblings were born? Maybe this is something we humans have missed -as independent as cats are, they still only have the mental age of a 2 year old human, and don't two year old human children have emotional need of mothers??? Food, cats can obtain from practically anyone, but it is really the love and care that a human showers on a cat that can truly make her your faithful child.

-Li Quan at Laohu Valley Reserve, South Africa